04/07/2015 02:31 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT

Notley fulfills her destiny leading Alberta NDP 30 years after father's death

EDMONTON - Rachel Notley says after 44 years of Progressive Conservative governments in Alberta it is time for a change.

"We aren't simply focused on being the conscience of the legislature," Notley, 50, told supporters when she won the NDP leadership race last fall. "We are focused on changing the government of this province."

It's a tall order and history is not on Notley's side.

Since 1962, the New Democrats have inhabited Alberta's political fringes except for a 16-seat spike in 1986 when the party became the official Opposition. The party won four seats in the last election in 2012 and took less than 10 per cent of the vote.

But that four-seat caucus has been an anchor of stability in a roiling sea of political change.

Supporters had spoken of Notley as the next party leader as far back as 2008, when she entered politics by winning the constituency of Edmonton-Strathcona.

Some call it the fulfillment of a destiny that began dreadfully on the snowy night of Oct. 19, 1984.

Her father, Grant Notley, who was provincial NDP leader, died in a plane crash in northern Alberta while heading home from Edmonton.

He was popular on both sides of the aisle, famous for his principled and at times quixotic fight for social justice. His old constituency has since been renamed Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley.

His daughter was 20 at the time, but her political indoctrination was already part of her DNA. Even as a child she marched in demonstrations with her mother Sandra.

Politics and the eternal debate on the nature of morality — of right and wrong — was always part of the dinner table discussion.

She earned a political science degree from the University of Alberta, then a law degree at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

After school, she went to work as a labour lawyer, helping injured workers with compensation claims.

She moved to British Columbia, and as an adviser to then-attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh, helped draft legislation to improve occupational health and safety rules and to extend benefits for same-sex couples.

"There's no question that being in a position to actually be in the room where decisions were made about what went into legislation and what didn't was incredibly formative for me."

After election day, Notley hopes she be running the whole thing rather than just joining the meeting.

Under Notley in the last two legislature sittings, the NDP has continued its tradition of punching well above its weight. She herself has pushed the PCs hard to fix health care, eradicate long waiting lines and help children in government care.

For months, the Liberals and the NDP also fought hard on gay-straight alliances, whipping up public support to demand Premier Jim Prentice and his Tories allow the peer-support groups at all schools if students so wish.

Earlier this month, the Tories reversed course and did just that.

Notley's response to the government showed her trademark cheeky magnanimity.

"The sad truth is that the PCs had to be dragged across the finish line on this one," she told the house.

"That being said, they are here now, so I'd like to offer them our sincere welcome to this side of the line."